• to know how many other people are having problems with Zip.ca's service,
• to inform possible customers of ongoing issues, and
• to have Zip.ca stop labelling me as a crook.
Here's the background:
Almost four weeks ago I mailed two Zip discs from my local post office. Upon returning home I logged onto their website to update my account to show the DVDs were en route. Usually within 24 hours, I receive an email listing the new titles being shipped to me. This system -- wherein Zip.ca ships out new DVDs before your old ones are returned to their warehouse -- is a courtesy feature they offered to all customers as an acknowledgement of the inefficiency of Canada Post and the vast geography of this country. DVDs shipped under this system are called ZipRefills.
I didn't get an email. Five working days passed with no response.Thinking this was an odd oversight, I contacted a customer service rep via twitter, then email. I was told that a ZipRefill is not a guaranteed rental and is only shipped when available inventory permits an early shipment. This puzzled me since I've come to regard ZipRefills as standard operating procedure. I printed off my rental history and started to count the various types of shipments I'd received with my 2 DVD Unlimited Plan. If Zip.ca stuck to their One ZipRefill At A Time policy, then I should have no more than 50% of my rentals as ZipRefills. The other 50% should be Regular Shipments, Preshipments, and Gotta Have It discs.
WRONG! In fact 79% of all my rentals were ZipRefills. Only 12% were sent as Regular shipments. I was sent Preship DVDs 8% of the time and 1% of the time I received Gotta Have It DVDs.
I began to wonder why the service was discontinued.
To find the answer, I went to the Zip.ca community forums. Turns out that in April, Zip.ca suspended the ZipRefill option for some accounts. No ZipRefills means the number of shipments a customer can expect in a month has decreased by 50%. In essence, I am now paying twice the amount for every disc rented.
It took Zip.ca two weeks to respond to complaints on the forum. In a thread called The Last Zip Refill, a staff member called Momentous Rob posted on page 5:
"Recently, we discovered some gaming of the zip refill system and we made changes to our systems to eliminate it. Don't get me wrong, I love a good game and strategy. But when it crosses a line and starts to effect other customers negatively, we will act. So we started temporarily suspending the zip refill privilege for some users based on a pattern in their behaviour. These users still get the standard zip.ca service, which is when we get a DVD back, we send another out. But they have lost the privilege of getting and advance shipment."As you can imagine, people weren't thrilled with this accusation.
Seven hours later Momentous Rob commented (on page 6 of that thread):
"There are other reasons I said in my post that effect zip refill and how it works. I have certainly not labelled all of you "gamers"."This was a nice attempt to retroactively qualify his earlier blanket statement calling heretofore loyal customers cheats. In that first comment he did not say some people were gaming and some were not, but both lost their ZipRefill rights. Nope. He said gamers lost their ZipRefill rights. The logical interpretations of his statement is: Gamers lost their ZipRefills. I lost my ZipRefills. Ergo I'm considered a gamer.
Five hours later -- on a day I assume Momentous Rob calls "one of the worst freakin' day of my career at Zip.ca" -- he posted:
"We have suspended zip refill ability (all of it, not throttled) for some users that were attempting to game it. This suspension is temporary and will automatically lift after a period of time. It is not permanent."and
"Just because you have not seen a zip refill lately does NOT mean you have been suspended from zip refill. Please do not try and over analyze this."Bullshit, I thought when I read this post. This weak-kneed admonishment to not over think why I've lost my privileges is infuriating. They've only given one explanation for lose of ZipRefills: attempts to play the system to get more DVD shipments. What? I'm not suppose to be annoyed that I'm no longer getting the same level of service for my subscription fee because a computer algorithm says I'm a crook?
Here's what Zip.ca should do if customers are playing the system:
1. people who are blatantly gaming the system are suspended. Point blank. Don't keep taking their subscription fees, with the hope that when you eventually return their ZipRefill rights, they'll suddenly become model customers.
2. educate customers who might be erroneously labelled as gamers because of behaviour that might be suspect, but might be innocent.
Personally, I average 6 DVDs a month -- a pittance compared to most users. I always post my discs from the mailbox INSIDE the post office. My borrowing record is clean -- none of my DVDs have been lost or stolen. I update the status of my discs to help their tracking software. I rate the movies I watch. I'm a loyal, low-maintenance customer. Until two weeks ago I considered Zip.ca to be a great company whom I trusted. Not anymore.
I call bullshit on everything Momentous Rob wrote in that thread. I believe ZipRefill rights were culled by an algorithm designed to cap rentals. I don't believe that my ZipRefills have been removed because of gaming. I think that Zip.ca are gaming their customers.
I have two theories to explain why Zip.ca might be throttling services:
1. The management is capping rentals to increase their profit margin. Fewer zip rentals = fewer disks to be mailed = less overhead = more profit. Digital downloads and online content are hurting the rental industry, and Zip.ca needs to conserve capital. Especially now that they're doing a deal with Samsung to stream new releases digitally.
2. Fewer ZipRefills means fewer discs in the mail system and more discs in the Zip.ca warehouse or in the hands of Zip.ca customers. This is important because Canada Post is threatening strike action. Zip.ca says they've made alternative delivery arrangements if the strike goes ahead. That's a band aid solution that might hold them for a few weeks. It won't amount to shit if they've got thousands and thousands of their DVDs sitting in Canada Post mail boxes, sorting rooms, and delivery vans where they can't touch them till a labour contract is signed.
If you think both of these theories are far fetched, I'd like you to consider two things:
• wouldn't a company -- upon learning a computer algorithm is penalizing the wrong clients -- either alter the algorithm in the name of good public relations, or attempt to educate their customers so their behaviour is no longer suspect? Why have they not offered to fix the problem? and
• from June 2010 until March 2011, Zip.ca purchased over 100 newly released titles every month. In April they bought 26. In May the added 16. Does this sound like a company with a healthy bankroll?
At this point I don't know if I'm sticking with Zip.ca. I don't think I want to give my money to a company who thinks I'm a crook.
Follow-up post is here.
02/14/2013 -- Comments have been disabled to thwart the spammers who try daily to comment on this post.